Monday, July 20, 2009

Corpulent Dane Proves Power of Etiquette

To qualify as hard-nosed, a person has to believe that social problems aren't caused by cultural decadence, family breakdown, and solo bowling, but are mostly, if not exclusively, a function of economics and other quantifiables. A hard-nosed pragmatist wouldn't suggest, say, bringing back the stigma against single motherhood; he'd talk about the availability of contraceptives.

There must be a pun in that somewhere, because Tycho Brahe was more hard-nosed than anyone has ever been and it was a fuzzy unquantifiable — shame — that killed him. Johannes Kepler's account:
Holding his urine longer than was his habit, Tycho remained seated. Although he drank a little overgenerously and experienced pressure on his bladder, he felt less concern for the state of his health than for etiquette. By the time he returned home he could not urinate any more.
The very modest point I want to make is that, while it's easy to score pragmatism points by scoffing at emotional motivations, it's foolish to think they don't matter. If a sane person might be willing to undergo serious deprivation for the sake of avoiding the shame of charity, for instance, that's something worth talking about.

All of this was brought to mind by the Chad Mitchell Trio Song "Fall River Hoedown (The Lizzie Borden Song)":
You can't chop your poppa up in Massachusetts
And then get dressed and go out for a walk,
No, you can't chop your poppa up in Massachusetts—
Massachusetts is a far cry from New York.
There's a series of cute rhyming couplets at the end of the live version I've got, and everyone in the audience laughs at this one:
Jump like a fish, jump like a porpoise,
All join hands and habeas corpus!
And no one laughs at "Such a snob, I've heard it said, / She met her Pa and cut him dead!" Can it be that the reference was too old-timey? Alas if so.

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